University

the lack of rooms delays the first return to Sorbonne-Nouvelle – Liberation

Sorbonne-Nouvelle University returns to its new Paris Nation campus for the first time. However, the lack of classrooms on campus forced the start of the school year to be postponed by two weeks on Friday.

The ax fell two weeks before the start of the school year. The resumption of classes at the Sorbonne-Nouvelle University (formerly Paris III) is being postponed for two weeks, we learned this Friday. Scheduled for September 19, it should finally take place on October 3. A problem ? The facility is completing its move, which began in January, to new premises that are brand new but… without the classrooms. The leadership team had to find fourteen rooms to rent outside the new campus. Now it remains to warn students and staff, decide which courses will be held in these rented premises, one of which is located more than 40 minutes from the new campus at the Place de la Nation, and redo all the tasks of the time. A “crisis situation”honors Bénédicte Durand, Deputy Director of Higher Education, Research and Innovation for the Academic Region of Ile-de-France.

Pierre Gervais, professor in the department of the English-speaking world and elected for the CGT, laughs yellow. “Colleagues tell me ‘for six years you’ve been telling us that the premises will be too small, but we didn’t believe you.’, he recalls. The lack of rooms and space was quickly apparent to this elected official who had followed this project from the beginning. The observation is far from shared, as Epurif, the public agency responsible for project management, says to itself “surprise» according to the needs for additional rooms expressed by the university.

Movement, not expansion

For Pierre Gervais, the situation is explained by a combination of three elements. The overall size of the project is questionable. The Sorbonne-Nouvelle was fragmented in several places, and its main site, Censier, was aging and covered in asbestos. but “Ministry of Finance has imposed a building with the same surface to preserve maintenance costs”, says Pierre Gervais. Therefore, in 2013, it was decided to relocate the university without anticipating a possible increase in the number of students, despite the declining student demographics and the policy of massification of higher education. “During the programming work, the university counted the rooms and the new campus had the same number of rooms, one and a 6% larger area”, says Jérôme Masclaux, general manager of Eparif. The budget constraint is partly the cause of the lack of space recorded today. It is true that land in Paris is very expensive and the cost of the project is currently estimated at around 150 million euros.

Over time, the distribution of square meters within the new building also evolved. For example, we had to insert a university restaurant that was not on the previous page. The university itself also made decisions. The new premises, designed by the architect Christian de Portzamparc, mainly include a theater, editing rooms, conference rooms with translation booths, etc. “These decisions were made before we took office. We don’t regret them because they are beautiful facilities, but they were made at the expense of classrooms.”explains Thibaud Harrois, vice president of the university.

Disclaimers and Litigation

The last stumbling block was the implementation of the construction, which was delayed by more than two years. If the rectorate talks about the normal number of reserves for this type of site (25,000, all the same), the employees no longer count the small errors that have accumulated and become problems. The heating system clogged as the delay continued and several offices were flooded when it needed to be turned on. There are no water inlets for coffee machines in the corridors and no water fountains in the restaurant room. More annoyingly, two amphitheatres, including the largest with 500 seats, are unusable due to the undersized smoke extraction capacity. “It was a very complicated project with 16 lots”, notes President Jamil Dakhlia. A lawsuit is also ongoing.

Jamil Dakhlia, elected in 2019, says he alerted his guardian about the lack of space. “I never had any documents confirming the occupancy rate of the rooms in the old building. My contacts [au rectorat et au ministère] against non-use of our premises, continues the president of the new Sorbonne. And from our side, the university was not trusted to express more important needs”.

A remark that has the gift of angering Evelyne Payen-Variéras, lecturer and elected CGT. “There is a systematic mistrust of employees towards their needs. We do not take their requests and comments seriously., he regrets. Indeed, in 2016, the university’s CHSCT requested an external expertise, the conclusions of which went in its direction. But she did not convince the ministry and the rectorate to expand the project.

“The management asked for an extension of the time periods. On Monday and Friday, supplement more significantly. In their simulations, courses were held in available rooms with more than 90% occupancy” slice from his side Thierry Fratti, elected Sgen-CFDT.

“The true will will speak”

Except that these simulations don’t account for all learning constraints. The management of the university realizes that there is a lack of rooms in the summer. Then on July 11, the president released the distance card. Offers departments to schedule online courses. An option rejected by teacher-researchers tired of two years of video lessons due to Covid-19. The Commission for Vocational Training and University Life opposite the wall finally agreed on September 2nd to take interdisciplinary courses (English, IT) at a distance.

Here, the management team is now forced to ask at the last minute which formations could give their course in the rooms rented in La Défense at the other end of Paris. A lack of anticipation that goes wrong internally. Jamil Dakhlia hopes that these difficulties will only last for the first half, time to take over the premises and that a “working group” will examine their actual use. It would be premature for the rector to say that the campus is undercalibrated: “Universities still need to improve their space management information system. We will monitor the actual use of the rooms in the first semester to decide the appropriateness between the spaces and the number of students. The true will will speak”explains Bénédicte Durand.

On the union side, there is concern that the problems will get worse: lack of space for individual interviews with students, school offices too small to fit them at registration time… Another problem, some adjacent rooms belong to the high school. whose internal regulation prohibits female students from wearing the veil. The coming weeks will put the university’s beautiful surroundings to the test of reality.

After all, this return to school takes place in a tense social climate at the Sorbonne-Nouvelle. The general inspection was sent there twice in recent years. Several terminations threaten the proper functioning of administrative services. A tension that has existed for a long time and on which the president and the unions do not have the same point of view. Things get better for the former when things get worse for the latter. Here, too, the wall of reality quickly creeps in. The mandate of the presidential team ends in 2023 and elections are due. Meanwhile, the unions are calling a general meeting for next Tuesday.

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